When my husband Ted, Cousin Martin and I visited Trinidad many years ago, we spent a week as houseguests of Kathleen, who lived in Arima, an Afro-Caribbean community in the center of the island. An amazing cook, she introduced us to all of the Trinidadian specialty dishes, washed down with her potent homemade ginger beer. It was the first time I experienced ginger in such a vibrant form, and I've never forgotten that taste. True Caribbean gingerbread overflows with the strong flavors of molasses and fresh ginger root, making it both sticky and spicy, and in no way resembles the gingerbread made from a box mix. I'm not usually drawn to dishes with a strong ginger flavor, but I ate a large square of this gingerbread. And then I ate another, and a third one after that, and Ted did, too. Kathleen would approve.
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Mastering the Art of French Cooking changed the way the world cooked. A more recent collection of recipes, Julia Child & Company, the companion to her 1978 PBS television series, changed the way I cook. In this book, Julia presented French-inspired recipes for American-style entertaining. From coulibiac to corned beef hash, to a chicken melon ball that nearly defeated my husband Ted and me on a weekend cooking date many years ago, Julia encouraged us to try new menus for all occasions. For this occasion, a celebration of her 100th birthday on August 15, I wanted to bake a cake. Not a fancy French gateau, just a simple cake, and Julia herself came to the rescue with a recipe in JC&Co for a chocolate chip spice pound cake, flavored with mace and vanilla, and made with a combination of white and brown sugars. The first time my friends Bev, Christine and I made this cake, we followed Julia's instructions to the letter. When I made it again, I combined Julia's flavorings with the recipe for Lorna's sour cream cake, and I liked the result even better than the original. Here's my version, an homage to Julia, right down to the plating in my photographs, as you can see on page 212 in the book. Bon anniversaire, Julia. (Be sure to check the PBS Julia Child page for more blogger tributes.)
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Cousin Martin, in his frequent travels to Costa Rica, always seeks out locally-produced cookbooks for me. I adapted these muffins from a banana cake recipe in one of his recent finds, The Best Recipes: Costa Rica, published by Ediciones Jadine S.A. in San José. When I made the cake according to the original recipe, I wasn't thrilled with the texture, though the flavor was nicely spiced and not too sweet. After a tweak here and there, and the last-minute addition of a handful of chocolate chips to half of the batter, I'm happy to recommend these muffins to you. The flavor of banana takes center stage, and you'll love the subtle notes of clove and vanilla, too. Eliminate the nuts if they're not your thing, or add more chocolate chips. Serve these muffins with afternoon tea or morning coffee, or sneak one into your child's lunch box.
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"When I read your post about how much you love Bundt pans, what choice did I have but to run out to my studio and make you one?" Lorna wrote in an email a couple of weeks ago. "This one is wheel-thrown stoneware that has been glazed with food safe colorants and fired to 2250 degrees in a gas kiln. To thank you for the many lovely dishes we've enjoyed courtesy of your creativity, I would love to send this to you." I'm so deeply honored to have this beautiful addition to my kitchen, and to inaugurate it, I baked Lorna's sour cream cake from a recipe she sent along with the pan. If you don't have a small Bundt pan like this one (it's a five-cup size), make this recipe in a standard loaf pan. Beware: this moist, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cake, perfect for afternoon tea or breakfast or brunch, is ever so slightly addictive. I know, because my husband Ted and I kept cutting slices and nibbling until it was all gone. Lorna, thank you for your kindness.
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On one of those days when silly little things were going wrong -- the bank machine was out of cash, and the office where I need to get my dump sticker was closed at 11 a.m. for no reason at all -- I absolutely, positively needed chocolate to restore my equilibrium. With no stash of candy or brownies in the house, I pulled out a recipe I've been saving for months from Ingredient, a cooking magazine for children. Chocolate cake in a mug (or an old glass measuring cup), made in less than two minutes. Almost like a brownie, the cake, kicked up from the original recipe with grown-up pantry items (walnuts, cinnamon, crystallized ginger, sea salt), delivered nearly instant gratification. The dump sticker could wait.
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